Trump-Moon summit; ‘Day after’ in Syria; B-1s, grounded; DOD buying fewer UAVs; Afghanistan’s high-risk list; And a bit more.

The presidents of the U.S. and South Korea will soon meet in Washington to discuss stalled North Korean talks, Reuters and AP reported after South Korea’s Blue House made the announcement Thursday evening.

When and where: April 11 at the White House, although South Korean President Moon Jae-in will arrive a day earlier. The planned Trump-Moon meeting is just one of a series of planned chats between senior South Korean officials and their U.S. counterparts, including “foreign and defense ministers, and other senior officials.”

Reminder of what’s prompting all this, via Reuters: “The second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fell apart in Hanoi in February over differences about the limits Pyongyang was ready to put on its nuclear programs and how willing the U.S. was to ease sanctions.”

One significant motivator: Moon “has staked much of his political capital on improving relations with Pyongyang,” and now that’s becoming a much larger domestic problem for South Korea’s president.

As for North Korea, AP reminds readers that “Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui threatened to pull out of the nuclear negotiations with the United States citing a lack of its corresponding steps to match some disarmament measures North Korea took last year. She said Kim would soon decide whether to continue the talks and his moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.”

Rising risk. “North Korea has nearly completed its work to restore a long-range rocket launch facility [that is the Sohae missile launch site near the northwestern city of Tongchang-ri] that it had partially dismantled last year at the beginning of the nuclear diplomacy,” said a South Korean lawmaker who attended a briefing today from RoK’s spy agency. In addition, “the North’s uranium-enrichment facility at its main nuclear complex remains operational,” AP writes, while Reuters caveats, “a 5-megawatt reactor there has not been operational since late last year.”

Worth noting: None of these DPRK construction developments suggest a long-range missile launch or nuclear testing of any kind is imminent.

Meantime: JSFs arrive in RoK. South Korea just received the first two of its 40 ordered F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Jets, AP writes. Continue reading, here.

Related news from Thursday: Sources to CNN: During Puerto Rico visit, Trump talked about using nuclear football on North Korea

From Defense One

The ‘Day After’ In Syria Finally Came. But What Comes Next? // Kevin Baron: If U.S. military commanders were unsure of their mission four years ago, it’s even muddier today.

Escalating the US Air War in Afghanistan Isn’t Working // Bonnie Kristian: The dramatic increase in U.S. airstrikes that began last year has brought the country no closer to peace. In fact, Afghan soldiers, police, and civilians are dying at record rates.

The Pentagon is ‘Absolutely Unapologetic’ About Pursuing AI-Powered Weapons // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: Much criticism of military AI projects is rooted in grave misperceptions, say current and former defense officials.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Victory for Palantir; F/A-18’s next chapter; New Air Force One flies; and just a bit more…

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 2004, President George W. Bush hosted the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia at the White House to welcome all seven nations into the NATO alliance.

The Afghan Taliban killed a district police chief and eight other officers in Ghazni province, The New York Times reports today. The gunbattle started before dawn and reportedly lasted three hours.
For the record: Since Sunday, “at least 98 members of the pro-government forces in Afghanistan” have been killed, the Times writes, including “four Afghan Special Forces soldiers and two Americans with a Special Forces unit, all killed in the same operation in Kunduz Province in the north. In all, four American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year. Hundreds of members of the Afghan security forces have been killed, in most cases when their bases were overrun by insurgents.” More here.

Where Afghanistan is most at-risk. America’s Afghanistan Special Inspector General John Sopko just ID’d “eight risks to the [Afghan] reconstruction effort that might persist or arise in the wake of any peace agreement,” Sopko’s office announced Thursday.
Those eight risks include:

  • Widespread Insecurity
  • Underdeveloped Civil Policing Capability
  • Endemic Corruption
  • Sluggish Economic Growth
  • Illicit Narcotics Trade
  • Threats to Women’s Rights
  • Reintegration of Ex-Combatants
  • and Restricted Oversight.

Some quick advice: “Policymakers should be planning for what may come in the days, weeks, months, and years after any peace agreement is reached,” Sopko recommends.
Sopko will be talking about these today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. That event gets underway at 10 a.m. EST, but you can livestream it here.  

The Air Force just grounded its entire fleet of B-1 bombers, Military Times’ Tara Copp reported Thursday, “marking the second time in a year that the long range conventional bomber has been stood down over issues with its ejection seats.”
The apparent issue this time: “concerns with the B-1’s drogue chute system, which corrects the seat’s angle to allow an airman to safely depart the bomber.” More here.

Competition with China and Russia is compelling the U.S. to shift away from drone purchases, U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman reports this morning off the latest Pentagon budget proposal, which “show the military plans to invest next year in the lowest number of new drones in more than a decade.”
What appears to be going on: “Though the complexity of Defense Department budgets makes it difficult to isolate a single reason for the shift, budget analysts agree the Trump administration’s stated intention of withdrawing from costly and deadly Middle East wars and instead focus on a resurging China and Russia is driving a focus on other technologies… War on that scale and against adversaries with comparable technology would require other kinds of weapons, budget experts say.” Read on, here.  

GCHQ says no way to Huawei 5G, for now. The UK’s spy agency insists there are enormous security risks if Britain adopts Chinese telecom Huawei into the UK networks without making any changes, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
Flagged for concern: “significant technical issues” in the Huawei’s engineering processes, as well as “concerning issues” in software, “leading to new risks” to Britain’s 4G telecom networks.
Background: “The United States has mounted a full-court press to urge partners worldwide to refrain from including Huawei in the rollouts of their 5G networks in coming years. National security officials say Huawei’s ties to the Chinese government and allegations that it has engaged in intellectual property theft make it an untrustworthy vendor — one whose access to telecommunications networks could serve as a back door to cyberespionage.”
On Tuesday, Britain’s Vice Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gordon Messenger, in Washington for talks with his U.S. counterpart, had declined to rule out the kind of blanket ban that the United States was seeking. Though his government is “alive to the risks,” Messenger said at an event at the British embassy, “We’re of the view that to simply suggest that one can outright ban Chinese componentry from any future network that one delivers is, let’s just say, a very tall order.”
Source doc for Thursday’s caution from GCHQ: “Huawei cybersecurity report,” which you can read through, here.

In other China-related security news today,US pressure building on investors in [a] China surveillance group” known as Hikvision, “which provides technology for Xinjiang detention camps,” Financial Times reports this morning.  
Meanwhile,China thanks Kazakhstan for support on Xinjiang de-radicalization scheme,” Reuters reports today.

For your eyes only: See who’s who among the biggest suppliers of weapons to Saudi Arabia in this annotated map from Agence France-Presse’s graphics department.
News hook: Germany just added another six months to its ban on arms exports to Riyadh, AFP reports.

ISIS war latest: The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS says it believes it killed 1,257 civilians over the course of the four-and-a-half year war in Iraq and Syria, AP reported Thursday.  
FWIW: The monitors at Airwars have put that estimate closer to 7,500 civilians killed.
Where to watch next? Perhaps Mali. “ISIS may have lost its territory, but you don’t know where they’re going to reappear, and West Africa is clearly a porous place,” the Washington Post reported Thursday off Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga visit to D.C. this week.

And finally: Set aside a few minutes this weekend to check out how “Military Familes Are Struggling to Make Ends Meet,” from The Atlantic’s Julie Bogen.  
A few curious pull-outs from that:

  • “A quarter of military spouses are unemployed—a rate roughly six times the 2017 national average of about 4 percent.”
  • That 25% unemployment stat for military spouses is also “nearly two and a half times the rate in the majority of the country’s most impoverished neighborhoods.”
  • “The trouble many military spouses have finding work isn’t an issue of a lack of education. Military spouses are more educated on average than other civilian Americans of working age.”
  • “This is about financial support but it’s also about the marriage itself—it puts a lot of emotional strain on a relationship when one person wants to work but can’t,” writes The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer.

Do you think the conversation is missing something? Let The Atlantic know what you think by sending a letter to the editors here, or emailing

Have a great weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne